Grimm Inspiration

Cover of "Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck Cent...

One of my New Year’s resolutions, (besides exercising more, eating less and being a better person), is to read more classic fiction. I was inspired by the challenge put forth my Ann and Michael from Books on the Nightstand. It’s called 12 in ’12 and the idea is to read 12 books in 2012. You may decide to read 12 sci-fi books, or maybe 12 books by a certain author, whatever tickles your fancy. I decided to pick 12 classics because it’s something I don’t usually read but feel like I should. This goes with that being a better person resolution….

I tend to gravitate to the new releases and there are so many of them I want to read. How can I possibly get off the new book merry-go-round and retreat back to the classics, especially when Goodreads, Bookpage and book bloggers keep tempting me with all those lovely, new titles!
This is funny logic coming from a person that has about 300 smelly, spine flaking, ancient books strewn all over the house. But it’s so comforting having all my old books surrounding me and I do manage to read a few of them a year, but the stack of new titles, hot off the presses seem to call my name just a tad louder.

As with most New Year’s resolutions, I promptly forgot about the challenge, and began hoarding and devouring piles of new books…I’m telling you it’s a sickness. But a program on TV reminded me of my resolution and my BOTN challenge. The show is called Grimm, and if you haven’t watched it you should. It’s a police procedural very loosely based on the fairy tales by the Grimm brothers. I too scoffed when I read about this show, especially since Once Upon a Time, another TV show based on fairy tales, came out this year, but it is terrific. Anyway, Friday’s show was based on the classic novel by John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men and in a round about way, that is how I came to remember my resolution and the challenge and get back on track!  Convoluted but true!      

So, today I took a step toward keeping my challenge promise. I went to the library and checked out a copy of the Steinbeck classic, because of course, among my many piles of books I do not own a copy!

The Help

Cover of "The Help"

As I’ve stated early, I am not a crowd follower when it comes to choosing a book to read or a movie to watch. A largely hyped book is one that I usually relegate to the bottom of the TBR (to be read) pile but sometimes a bit of serendipity occurs and I have actually read a book before the rest of the world jumps on the bandwagon.  The Help is one such book. It came out in February 2009 and someone at the library I worked at read it as soon as it came out, sang its praises and by summer quite a few of us had already devoured it and loved it.
We were so excited that The Help was being made into a movie, and ran right out to see it as soon as it was released. What a great adaptation of a novel! So many times the movie doesn’t live up to the images you’ve created in your mind, but in this case I felt just the opposite. The actors were brilliant and made the characters come alive on screen. Not an easy thing to do, especially when so many people have read the novel and already feel connected to the story. So, I’ve been glad to see the movie get so many award nominations.

I tuned in at the end of the SAG awards last night and was ecstatic to see Viola Davis win Best Actress,  Octavia Spencer win Best Supporting Actress and the entire cast win Outstanding Performance by a cast! Congratulations!
The best part was when the cast departed from the stage, after their win, a la The Mary Tyler Moore show. If you don’t remember the final show of MTM you should go back and watch the final few minutes it’s brilliant!

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management

I’ve always loved the look, smell and feel of a book as much as its contents. There is nothing quite as satisfying as holding a book and feeling it’s weight in your hands, opening it up and feeling the paper and checking out the type and font.

I don’t just feel this way about new books, but about old books too. I’ve become a collector of old, used and sometimes smelly books. Choosing which books to purchase is a lot of the fun. Without realizing it I’ve made a few rules for myself; it must be something I would want to read, it can’t be too mildewed and it can’t cost more than $50. I do think (no, I KNOW)  I’ve cheated on that last rule a few times, but what the heck they are my own rules!!

One of my favorite purchases, and one of the most expensive at $40, is a 1915 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. I found this gem at our local flea market and I couldn’t believe my luck. I can’t remember the first time I heard of Mrs. Beeton and her famous book, but it had to be while reading a Victorian novel or watching Upstairs Downstairs. I had read her biography and looked up some of the books contents on   Project Gutenberg but I never, ever thought I would be able to snag my own copy!!

It’s a big, fat book with “32 plates in colour and nearly 700 illustrations”, as proclaimed on its title page, and the end papers have old-fashioned ads for Howards’ Bicarbonate of Soda, A1 Sauce and Bumsted’s Salt. The contents are glorious and a peek into what a well-to-do lady needed to know to run a household in 1915. It explains the duties of her housekeeper, the butler and the maids. There are household tips, like napkin folding and how to set a table as well as instructions on what is needed in a modern-day nursery.

There are oodles of little gems in this book  and I doubt that I will ever find them all as there are over 1600 pages, but I never get tired of opening it up to a random page and getting transported back to a different place and time.

Ah, the power of books!!

A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons

Thank you Goodreads for the copy of this wonderful book, A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons”. Paul Jennings story is something that appealed to the history lover in me and the author’s ability to parlay her research into an enjoyable telling of his life and the lives of his ancestors made it a pleasure to read.

Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of President James Madison. When his was young, he moved with the Madison’s to the Executive Mansion and even played a major role in saving the famous painting of George Washington when the British attacked in 1812. His duties as a “body servant” to President Madison made him closer to the man than anyone other than his wife Dolley. After the death of the President, Mr. Jennings remained a slave serving Dolley Madison until, with the help of Daniel Webster, he was able to buy his freedom.
It was great to learn about the past from a different point of view.

Born to walk

As a sometimes runner and an everyday walker I’ve always been curious about the distances I’ve gotten under my belt. I’m not a long distance runner/walker by any means but I am curious about my accomplishments no matter how small.

I’m not a fan of the pedometer. I’ve tried several different versions and have found that they either stop recording at some point during my walk or they don’t record at all no matter where I place them on my clothes.
I’ve used an app on my IPod that was just ok, but I found that it was inconvenient and not very accurate.

But I wanted to share something I found on the internet that is just great, it’s the g-map pedometer. You can figure out distances for walks/runs any place in the world or just use it to record walks/runs around your neighborhood. If you want, you can get a free account that enables you to set a default starting point, and keep a log of routes that are already under your belt.

Island Bound

My favorite show of all time has to be LOST. I was slow to embrace the premise but after hearing so many co-workers sing its praises, I finally checked out Season 1 from the library and hastily become a FANATIC. I loved the characters, the mystery, the twists and turns. What a show! I listened to three different podcasts each week, where the hosts hashed and rehashed each small detail for hours. I kept up with blogs, websites, reviewers. My family bought me books about LOST and a doll based on one of the characters. Like I said FANATIC! So when the show ended I went into serious LOST withdrawal, as did many of the bloggers, podcasters and reviewers to whom I turned to for my LOST fix.   We’ve all been waiting for the second coming…..but it’s never come…until now….maybe.

The creator of LOST, J.J. Abrams, has launched several shows since LOST ended, none of which have appealed to me. Even though I so want to like PERSON OF INTEREST with Michael Emerson, I just find it another dull police procedural. But now we have the most promising series since the end of LOST, ALCATRAZ.
It has Jorge Garcia from LOST, it has mystery and seems to have some mythology like LOST, but I’m still not quite sold. I think the problem is the writing. The terrific writers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse from LOST aren’t involved and there is the difference.

The dialogue is stilted and sometimes heavy. Other than Jorge Garcia, I find the regular cast very generic, no personality. The best actors/characters are the prisoners of Alcatraz. They are terrific! You can tell that these actors are making the most of their shot to appear in a weekly series and for them alone I will continue to watch.

Even though ALCATRAZ has some of the same qualities as LOST, I doubt if any TV show in the near future will be able to duplicate the same kind of loyal followers. It’s unique and I’m glad I was along for the ride!

1940’s theme running through my days

Somehow the 1940’s has become a recurrent theme in all my media outlets this week. It all started when I tuned into the Big Band Pandora radio station over the weekend, progressed into my television viewing on Sunday and advanced into my reading choices my midweek.

Maybe the launch of Season 2 of Downton Abbey on PBS has caused this need for me to immerse myself in a time period that I’ve only known about through my parents and television. Or maybe I kind of wish I had experienced the romance of it on my own. Of course movies and TV do tend to glamorize and sanitize things to the point that I’m sure they aren’t recognizable to those that actually lived through the events.
Downton Abbey, the TV series and Gosford Park, the movie, are two of my favorites and they are both from the creative mind of Julian Fellowes.

I’ve just finished two books set during the beginnings of WWII in England that I really enjoyed. The House of Tyneford by Natasha Solomons is set in a country house, much like those depicted in Downton Abbey and Brideshead Revisited, the novel by Evelyn Waugh. In all three stories these stately manors are given over to the british army to assist in the war efforts. Downton Abbey and Brideshead during WWI and Tyneford during WWII. The House of Tyneford is set around Elise Landau, a 19 year old Austrian Jew. Elise lives a glamorous life in Vienna but her parents decide to send her to England to escape the feared Nazi occupation of Austria. They decide to stay behind and wait for visas to America. Elise is fortunate to be able to secure a position as a parlor maid at Tyneford where her life is much different than before.  I raced through the book and recommend it highly.

The second book, Mr Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal, was a giveaway of an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) on Goodreads.  It was also a page turner but with a slightly different premise and more of a mystery quality to it.  Maggie Hope, an American with dual british citizenship, becomes a secretary to Winston Churchill during the beginnings of the war. This novel gives you the beginning views of the war from London right in Churchill’s war rooms. There is also a pretty darn good mystery at the heart of the story.

I have one more 1940’s theme to DVD to watch before my week ends, Land GIrls, and then maybe next week I will progress into a different decade!